The Owls continued their freight train chug through Conference USA by blowing out the Bulldogs 48-23 in Ruston, La.
FAU moved to 6-0 in Conference USA play, setting up Saturday’s Shula Bowl battle against FIU as a game that could determine the East Division’s representative in the C-USA championship game. The Owls won 10 consecutive games in 2003 at the FCS level, but their current six-game streak is the most since becoming an FBS school.
Operating as efficiently as it has all season, FAU scored three first-half touchdowns despite only having the ball for a little more than 7 minutes in the first half.
Leading 20-9 at the intermission, the Owls blew the game open with 14 points in the first four minutes of the second half, including the first kickoff return for a touchdown in program history.
Kerrith Whyte took the opening kickoff of the second half, broke three tackles up the middle, scooted to the left sideline and out-raced the remaining Bulldog defenders for a 98-yard touchdown.
Whyte knew he entered FAU’s record book.
“I was like, history has been made,” Whyte said after crossing the goal line.
First-year coach Lane Kiffin didn’t know about the kickoff return drought.
“That’s got to be 17 long years,” he said.
After the Owls’ defense forced three-and-out, Devin Singletary’s 44-yard run set up his own two-yard touchdown run, extending FAU’s lead to 34-9 before fans had returned to their seats.
A lack of plays – FAU only ran 24 – in the first half limited Singletary early, but the back nicknamed “Motor” rallied in the second half, ending the game with 104 yards and three more scores, raising his nation-leading total to 22. On his final TD run, Singletary ran through what would have been a face mask penalty for a 44-yard score.
Buddy Howell added 50 rushing yards and scored a late touchdown.
On its opening drive FAU marched 88 yards on 13 plays thanks in large part to quarterback Jason Driskel, who rushed for 22 yards and threw for 51, including a 36-yard completion down the right sideline to Kalib Woods that set up Singletary’s three-yard touchdown run. Kiffin elected to go for two following the score, but La. Tech knocked away Driskel’s pass, leaving FAU with a 6-0 lead.
Driskel and Woods hooked up again in the second quarter, this time in a more unconventional manner. The Owls’ QB lined up at receiver, allowing Singletary to take the snap in a Wildcat formation. Singletary handed off to wide receiver Kamrin Solomon on a reverse, Solomon pitched to Driskel, who tossed down field to a wide open Kalib Woods, who trotted into the end zone for a 77-yard score that gave FAU a 13-3 lead.
Enjoying arguably his best career game, Driskel threw for 221 yards on 14-of-17 passing, tossing first-half touchdowns to Woods and Harrison Bryant – that coming on a nifty fake wide receiver screen in which the sophomore tight end released long uncovered for a 33-yard score.
FAU now has seven wins in a season for only the second time as a full FBS level team. The 2007 Owls, FAU’s first bowl team, was the only other team to accomplish the feat.
“It feels awesome but you can’t dwell on it too long,” Driskel said. “We have to look forward to next week.”
With a Shula Bowl win, the Owls would assure themselves of hosting the Conference USA championship game.
Kiffin normally gives the Owls 24 hours to enjoy a victory before turning their attention to the following week’s opponent. Not this week.
“This is going to be 24 minutes,” he said.
GameBrowser: FAU (7-3, 6-0) 48, La. Tech (4-6, 2-4) 23
TURNING POINT: Leading 20-9 at halftime, FAU seized momentum on the legs of Kerrith Whyte, who returned the second-half kickoff 98 yards for the first kickoff return touchdown in program history. Louisiana Tech trailed 27-9 and never recovered from that play.
- Anyone ready for a meaningful Shula Bowl? Never before has the FAU vs FIU game held so much importance. Sure, there have been times where one team or the other needed a win for bowl eligibility or, in FAU’s case, a conference title. But Saturday’s game is critical for both teams, and both are headed to bowl games. Lane Kiffin vs. Butch Davis? It’s a must see.
- Injuries to Jalen Young and Andrew Soroh forced FAU to play with true freshmen Zyon Gilbert and Quran Hafiz at safety for much of the game. With cornerback Raekwon Williams likely out for the year with a knee injury, redshirt freshman Korel Smith enjoyed his first extended action. The young Owls made some mistakes, but overall they performed well. That being said, FAU needs Young and Soroh at full health against FIU.
- Watching FAU in spring and fall camp, the Owls experimented with a good amount of trick plays. They haven’t broken them out much this season, but have now scored on trick plays in consecutive weeks. Kiffin and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles have creative minds. It’s hard to believe, but this offense could become even more fun to watch.
- Devin Singletary only rushed for 104 yards and three touchdowns. How’s that for a bad game? It’s Motor’s eighth consecutive 100-yard game. He also completed a pass, though it’s yet to show up in the statistics. That little tap forward of the snap from the Wildcat formation counts as a completion.
- Speaking of Singletary, he showed fortitude in bouncing back from his fumble that set up La. Tech’s first touchdown. On the next possession Singletary broke free for a 44-yard touchdown run that ensured the Bulldogs wouldn’t mount a comeback.
- Officials ejected starting FAU defensive tackle Steven Leggett late in the second quarter for targeting. It was a tough call against Leggett – quarterback J’Mar Smith spun into him – but it was a helmet-to-helmet hit on a quarterback, which is by rule, targeting. The officials made the right call. The problem is that the rule doesn’t offer any leeway. Leggett wasn’t headhunting.
0 – Turnovers forced by FAU. The Owls lost one fumble.
2 – Penalties for 22 yards called on FAU.
4 – Times in the first half that La. Tech broached FAU’s 10-yard line. The Bulldogs totaled only nine points on those possessions.
9 – Completions in 10 attempts for 189 yards from Jason Driskel in the first half. “We really needed that because people don’t play us honest,” Kiffin said.
14 – Tackles by Al-Shaair to lead the Owls, who sat most of the fourth quarter.
16 – Yards on nine carries in the first half for Devin Singletary. One of those carries resulted in a TD.
32 – First downs for La. Tech. FAU only managed 19.
52 – Plays run by La. Tech in the first half, FAU led 20-9 despite running only 24 plays. La. Tech ran 96 in the game.
20:07 – Time of possession for FAU. La. Tech had the ball nearly twice as much as the Owls.
Up Next. It’s Shula Bowl time. FAU welcomes FIU to Howard Schnellenberger Field for a game that will likely determine the Conference USA East Division Champion. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.